Before You Create Fabric Art, Do the Laundry

Leave it to artists to turn mundane items like laundry products into fabric art materials. Artists look at used dryer sheets and wonder, "Could I stitch through this?" They peel lint from the lint screen and think, "Free batting." They splash bleach on their favorite black t-shirt and say, "What a cool design!"

perez fabric art samples
Some of the fabric art Judy Coates Perez created
through discharge dyeing. From "QATV" Series 900.

Color catchers, thread trash, bleach pensthey're all fodder for the lover of fabric art. And when a new product comes along, they are quick to capitalize on it.

Fiber artist Judy Coates Perez, best known for her hand-painted wholecloth quilts, has experimented with Rit dyes in the past, and recently discovered that brand's Color Remover product can be used for surface design.

Marketed as a laundry aid, Color Remover is a powder that is mixed with water and heated to a boiling point to activate the discharge or color removal process. Judy has been using the product to create designs on dark cloth. Previously, this "discharge dyeing" has been accomplished with bleach or a relatively new product called deColourant.

Before trying this process, Judy notes, it's a good idea to test fabrics for their abilities to discharge, because many dye colors discharge differently.

fabric art discharge dyeing
Discharge dyeing using Rit Color Remover.

"Some colors lighten very fast going all the way to white, while others may only become a lighter tint. Many blue dyes will not discharge at all. I have had really interesting results using some over-dyed dark 'ugly' fabrics that discharged to bright colors due to some pigments being easily removed, while others were resistant," she says.

"Many commercial fabrics will do some surprising things. For instance, I bought three different black fabrics; one discharged to gold, another to warm gray, and another to sage green."

Here are the basic steps. Once you feel comfortable with the process, you can experiment with fabric folding and binding techniques (like tie-dye) to achieve different effects.


1. Place your fabric in the heat-safe tray.

2. Boil water in a kettle or container for easy pouring.

3. Pour boiling water over your fabric, using just enough to saturate the fabric.

4. Wearing gloves, sprinkle Rit powder over your fabric in the areas you want to lighten and remove color.

pokey bolton and judy coates perez
Pokey Bolton (left) and Judy Coates Perez on the set of "QATV."

5. When the desired result is achieved, rinse your fabric in cool water. (There will be no residual odor left on the fabric as happens with bleach.)

Caution: Reductive discharge chemicals are less harmful than bleach, but should be used in a well-ventilated area. People with respiratory sensitivity may want to use a mask. Always use gloves and have a separate set of equipment dedicated to nonfood use.

Judy elaborates on this surface design process in "Quilting Arts TV" Series 900 with Pokey Bolton.

For more ideas, tips, and resources on fabric art, visit our new Fabric Art Topic Page on the Cloth Paper Scissors Community.

P.S. Do you use any laundry products in your art? Talk about it in the comments section below.


Blog, Fabric Art


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